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Undiluted, Unromantic Love
We used to share the same bed every night.
My paws touching your cheeks, your arms wrapped tight around my middle, loosening as you fell asleep. My eyes never closed, ever-vigilant for monsters hiding under beds and in closets. I would never have let any harm come to you.
You’d to take me everywhere. Sleepovers, camping trips, traveling. You’d introduce me when parents asked.
“This is Gawain,” you’d say shyly, half-hiding your face behind mine, big, staring eyes peering out at whoever you were talking to. You’d then have to explain how I was named after your favorite knight of the round table and wait for them to finish cooing about what a strange, smart girl you were.
Then, late at night, you’d maybe blink back sudden tears at the unfamiliarity of sleeping in a foreign bed. Your arms would squeeze me tighter then, and you’d bury your nose in my fur and inhale deeply, and relax.
I was the one you’d go to when your parents argued about education, politics, or money. I was the one you addressed your questions about friendship and life and the future to. I’d always sit and listen, my eyes glassy and staring in a way that would be cold from anyone else. You were considerate enough to fill in my part of the conversation. You were always being told, talked to, ordered. You were told about the importance of listening and respect and felt that you got none. Heavy thoughts for somebody still in elementary school, but they were justified. The most frequently heard words from your mother were “Ah.” From your father, “hmm.”
I was your earliest counselor. I listened, never judged. You’d pace back and forth in front of my, carefully placed on the bed with my head angled towards you, your smooth size-1 feet making the soft swish-thumps of walking on carpet. After you finished ranting about everything you wished was different, you’d crawl up onto the bed and curl your body around me and say, sleepily, “At least I have you.” And you did.
Elementary school passed into Middle. I stopped being carried everywhere. I stopped being taken to bed every night. I started taking up too much space as you grew, thrashing the bed with your dreams. Most nights I woke up on the floor. Your mother finally put me in the closet, and you didn’t protest. Secretly, I knew you were embarrassed of me. Growing up terrified you, but you didn’t want to stay a baby forever. I understood. I only saw you through the gap between the closet door and the frame. I’d heard your mother complaining to your father about the error in its design which made it impossible to keep closed. I was quietly grateful for that.
Years passed, marked by the colors outside your window, passing from brilliant scarlets and golds to lusterless browns and greys to bright, sweet yellows and greens to vibrant emeralds.
They were also marked by the way your body grew more pinched in the middle and wider in the hips, which you’d stare at critically in the mirror, sometimes with dissatisfaction and insecurity in your eyes. I would have told you that you were beautiful. Your arms and legs grew longer, until it sometimes seemed like they made up the entirety of your form. You started sleeping calmly again; waking up on the same side of the bed you’d started out on. The conversations at sleepovers turned from books and games to schools and your body and boys.
On more than one occasion, you came home and ran straight to your bed, letting yourself melt into it, face down and shaking slightly. I wanted you to remember me, but you didn’t. You’d sit up with a look of steely determination, wrapping your arms around your knees, and stare hard at a spot on the wall for a minute before shaking yourself, reapplying the makeup you now wore, and leaving again. I was proud of you for your strength, but wished you would realize that you weren’t as alone as you thought you were.
I remained obsolete and forgotten until you’d already found stability. The uncomfortable feelings of anger and hatred you’d felt for so long had gently dispersed, revealing a taller, wiser version of the sweet smart girl who’d loved me.
You rediscovered me as you were searching for something in your closet. You took me down gently, and enveloped me in a much less gentle hug.
“Hey, you.” You said.
From then on, occasionally you’d take me out, remorse and nostalgia readable in your face, and tell me secrets.
The biggest one was how much you missed me. You missed everything about me, everything that came with me. Not knowing how desperately sad the world is; how unhappy your parents were with each other; how so many things were wrong and you didn’t know how to make them right.
You’d curl your body around me just the same as you always had and we’d wait together for you to be able to conquer whatever problem you were up against as you breathed deeply. Then you’d put me on the chair in the corner, right where the afternoon sun’s slanting rays illuminated my remaining fur and made it shine, highlighting it with the dust floating in its path.
I was the one who introduced you to the first boyfriend you’d really care about, really love. He’d be the one to pick me up, look into my eyes, and ask you what my name was with a serious expression on his face.
And I was happy because you were.